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History of Southsea Self Help Housing Co-operative


Fratton Centre District Plan

Overshadowing the Short Life housing scheme, and the development of the permanent housing of the co-op, was ‘The Fratton Plan’. Basically, this was a local authority plan dating back to the mid ‘70’s, to ‘breathe new life’ into Fratton inland use and the provision of shopping & business resources, etc. As mentioned, the first to go were the 400 houses just south of the railway line, to make way for the new ‘North/South Rd.(the old Holbrook Rd), and various Industrial Units.

Crystal Rooms
Crystal Rooms Garnier Street

The main player in all this was the P.I.M.C.O., who made a planning application in May 1980. It was apparently seen that to attract more shoppers to the area, a major re-development of the Co-operative department store was necessary, to adapt to changing retail trends, and competition. This included a covered shopping mall, and other shopping units, a Petrol Station, and 24 hour toilets. The original plan included provision of car parking space for 400 cars, later (1984) increased to 500, but eventually reduced back to about 390 spaces.

The original scheme actually envisaged a road considerably wider than what exists today, and (it may have been forgotten!) The plan also imagined the demolition of No’s 6 – 52 Garnier St., to enable all of it to go ahead.

Demolition Demolition of Besant Road

A PUBLIC INQUIRY was held in May ’83, and various amendments and modifications were made. We sent our own representative to the Inquiry, with an objection – basically about the size of the Car Park (and the need for the demolition of Besant Rd.). We had support in all this, from at least four Councillors, one of whom was on the City Planning Committee. At one point in the Inquiry, I remember someone saying that they believed the Society was ‘holding a gun to the council’s head’, with words to the effect of ‘give us the scheme that we want, or we will take our business elsewhere’.

Fortunately, the Inspector of the Inquiry, and City planners, were not entirely convinced of the need for all of the extra space. They were concerned about “the net loss of 400 dwellings in the planning area, and the prospect of further demolition of houses which were worthy of retention”. He considered “The attractive residential enclave” (Garnier St.) worthy of saving, and thought the houses “were expected to provide satisfactory family accommodation for many years to come” That element of the plan (Garnier St.) didn’t go ahead. The demolition of Besant Rd, & the Crystal Rooms did go ahead.

Besant Rd
Demolition of Besant Road View of Besant Road

P.I.M.C.O had made their views known: “The population of Portsmouth was declining” and the “sites of these houses would be put to better use as part of the shopping area” In view of the ‘retailing revolution’ and social and economic trends resulting from increased car ownership, the larger space was felt necessary for a viable scheme. The Society was prepared to buy up the properties it needed (Besant Rd) to demolish:  “The loss of housing would appear to be insignificant when set against the desirability of promoting a Shopping Centre” (Property Manager, PIMCO) apparently, in the late ‘70’s, a Housing Conditions Survey had found the houses worthy of improvement. In different circumstances (and in view of what we did with Lucknow St) who knows what could have been done?

While all this was going on, the Housing Co-op had demonstrated that it was capable of bringing boarded up houses into use for a ‘short life’, using minimal budgets, and mostly it’s own labour. A residents meeting and petition, plus the support of the councillors, and P.H.A, put a delay on the immediate demolition.

Besant Rd
Besant Rd
View of Besant Road View of Besant Road

In addition to the loss of Besant Rd., Lucknow St. was also under threat of demolition, to make way for an extension of the electricity sub-station, to service the new Shopping Centre. There was a campaign within the co-op to prevent this, which worked, although I can’t remember quite how. It is interesting from today’s perspective that our first Architects, The Energy Conscious Design Partnership, thought that Lucknow St. should probably be demolished, due to its poor condition.

Garnier St
Crystal Rooms
Gardens at Garnier Street View of Crystal Rooms

Following on from all the planning requirements, construction of the ‘Bridge Centre’ started in early ’88, and opened in May ’89. 10 years on, planning permission was granted to demolish the Superstore, and redevelop a larger ASDA superstore, which opened on Nov. 2001 and remains today.

Asda Store
Google Map of Asda Store - click on image to enlarge

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